October 02, 2018

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is outspending Carlos Curbelo on TV. Will it pay off?

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@alextdaugherty

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has been running against Carlos Curbelo for more than a year, but the last three weeks could prove pivotal in her quest to unseat one of the Republican Party’s strongest candidates.

Mucarsel-Powell and her Democratic allies are spending around $1 million on billingual television and radio advertising this week, a spending pace that’s been in place since mid-September, according to a source familiar with media buying in the district. Though Mucarsel-Powell hasn’t been able raise more money than Curbelo, one of the GOP’s best fundraisers, she’s outspending him.

The aggressive pace is shifting momentum in one of the nation’s most-watched congressional races, in which Curbelo has seen his chances of reelection improve in the eyes of most prognosticators in recent weeks despite a national environment that favors Democrats. Mucarsel-Powell has peppered the airwaves with a biographical ad and an ad that touts Democrats’ efforts on healthcare in a district where more than 90,000 people are enrolled in the program.

The Mucarsel-Powell campaign “went up [on TV] before the primary and they have not come down since then, and the campaign has no plan to decrease this communication,” the source familiar with media buying said. “This wasn’t an early ‘I’m going to throw all my dollars on the table and have nothing left’ strategy.”

A new poll commissioned by Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign shows the race in a statistical tie, a big change from a Democratic poll in July that showed Curbelo with a seven percentage point lead over Mucarsel-Powell.

The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, shows Mucarsel-Powell with a one percentage point lead over Curbelo. Mucarsel-Powell’s 49-48 lead came after her campaign began spending money on TV advertising in August.

“I’ve been working on behalf of my community for over 20 years, and families here can trust I’ll be a genuine voice for them in Washington on the most important issues, like healthcare, jobs and the environment,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement.

The internal poll, which used live phone calls to landlines and cell phones in English and Spanish to reach 511 likely voters from Sept. 23-27, was conducted concurrently with Mucarsel-Powell’s ramped up spending. The poll’s margin of error is 4.9 percentage points, meaning that the race is essentially a tie.

Read more here.

October 01, 2018

How Parkland school massacre turned guns into a top 2018 campaign issue in Florida

Congress Gun Violence

@alextdaugherty

Gun rights have motivated portions of the Republican base in Florida for years, but the script has changed in 2018.

The National Rifle Association sued the state of Florida after Gov. Rick Scott and 67 state lawmakers with an “A” rating from the nation’s largest gun group signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. Congress passed a bill that authorizes funding for school safety measures after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, but hasn’t taken up other ideas that would limit access to firearms. Republicans running in competitive congressional races across Florida say they are open to a ban on assault weapons.

Parkland and the March For Our Lives movement started by a group of Broward County high school students have thrust gun politics into the top tier of issues ahead of the 2018 elections, where Democrats are hoping to keep Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and flip up to a half dozen congressional seats that could determine which party wins the majority in the House of Representatives.

“Even if you go back 10 years, it’s amazing how much this issue has changed,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “If you looked at the polling, people supported background checks and banning certain types of weapons, but the entire energy for voting was on the other side. A larger swath of the population is saying that if you’re not reasonable about gun safety, we’re not going to vote for you.”

Though Parkland is in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, congressional candidates in nearby Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have changed their tune on guns in the last year. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning district, called on Congress to ban devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like automatic rifles after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast cited his military experience when calling for an assault weapons ban after Parkland. Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican, said this week that she supports background checks on guns and is open to an assault-weapons ban.

All three breezed through their respective Republican primaries even though Mast drew two challengers after announcing his stance against assault weapons, and Salazar faced a host of challengers who were more conservative on guns.

“The threat that the NRA has made for years is that if you oppose us, you will lose,” Schale said, adding that zero Republican incumbents who signed the state-level gun bill or called for more gun restrictions after Parkland lost their primaries. “If you look at folks like Brian Mast who came out for an assault weapons ban... it’s hard to imagine in the past that a GOP member of Congress could come out with that position without being completely terrified of the NRA.”

Read more here.

Diaz-Balart grapples with Trump effect as he runs for reelection in South Florida

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

Florida’s master of backroom deals has 30 years of lawmaking experience, but Donald Trump’s propensity for governing with tweets and insults is making Mario Diaz-Balart’s job tougher.

The 56-year-old Miami Republican prides himself on being the state’s senior member of the powerful House committee tasked with overseeing federal spending and being a crucial voice on immigration issues in Washington. Unlike his South Florida counterparts Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, he doesn’t attract attention for publicly disagreeing with the president and is the only House member from Miami-Dade who voted for Trump in 2016.

But the messaging from the White House is hard to ignore as Diaz-Balart runs for reelection in District 25.

As Diaz-Balart sat down recently with an espresso — not his first caffeinated beverage of the day during hours-long spending talks — the president tweeted, without evidence, that a government-sponsored tally of 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria was a political ploy by Democrats to hurt him.

Diaz-Balart said he hadn’t seen it.

“I literally do not read tweets. I don’t watch the talk shows, I watch newscasts,” Diaz-Balart said. “ If you ask me the last time I listened to or watched a talking-heads show, which unfortunately now television news is pretty much all that except for a couple of newscasts, I don’t. I have a job to do and my job is to get things done.”

Trying to ignore Trump and the constant news he generates gives Diaz-Balart the ability to sidestep criticism of the president, but choosing to keep his mouth shut has opened him up to criticism that he won’t stand up for his mostly Hispanic constituents.

He didn’t respond to most of Trump’s claims on Puerto Rico, except when the president said he was “successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” a statement that is a direct jab at lawmakers like Diaz-Balart, who spent weeks crafting massive relief packages for Puerto Rico and Florida last year.

“The Constitution is pretty clear about that,” Diaz-Balart said, referring to Congress’ power of the purse.

If Diaz-Balart wins reelection in November, he will become the longest-tenured Republican in Congress from Florida — and the state’s most powerful House member if the GOP retains its House majority. His pitch to voters is a classic one for incumbents with clout: he’s the steady hand with experience in Washington since 2003 and the policy chops to best represent a majority Hispanic district with thousands of immigrants.

Diaz-Balart rarely makes cable news appearances, preferring instead to talk with reporters who cover the federal spending process or immigration talks in detail. He refuses to discuss private meetings, including the infamous White House session he attended where Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African countries as “shitholes.”

“If you look at the folks who get things done, they’re not the ones on MSNBC and Fox 20 times a day,” Diaz-Balart said. “They’re the ones who sit down quietly. In Congress, appropriations have become more difficult. It’s become more difficult because of hyper-partisanship from both sides. And yet we have a constitutional obligation to get those bills done and they’re ugly and they’re not always ideal. But if you look at those bills it’s a smaller and smaller group of us that work on them, who are willing to put partisanship aside, egos aside, who can communicate with Democrats and Republicans and the administration.”

But the traditional path to reelection for a powerful incumbent has been upended by a president who thwarts sensitive negotiations on issues — like finding a solution for so-called Dreamers — by constantly offering mixed messages to members of his own party, lessening the incentive for any Democrat to compromise. Diaz-Balart failed to find enough votes for an immigration compromise earlier this year, even though he rebuked GOP leaders by signing onto a petition that would have forced a series of immigration votes with the blessing of Democrats. He now faces former judge Mary Barzee Flores in the November election, his first serious opponent in a decade.

Read more here.

September 27, 2018

Curbelo to vote no on Speaker of the House without lawmaking changes

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo joined a group of 19 House members from both parties who plan to vote against their party's nominee for Speaker of the House unless the nominee agrees to rule changes that would curb some of the power of party leaders and make it easier for bills with bipartisan support to pass the House of Representatives. 

The gambit, first reported by the Washington Post, is by members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of lawmakers who represent the centrist wings of both parties. Democrats who made the pledge would vote no if their party takes a majority in November while Republicans would do the same if they keep control unless the candidate for speaker supports their demands. 

The rule changes that the centrist lawmakers are demanding from either party's leadership include opening up amendments to change bills, making it easier for bills with bipartisan support to get a full vote and limiting the ability of a rogue group lawmakers to oust a sitting speaker, like conservative Freedom Caucus members did to John Boehner in 2015. The lawmakers are banking on either party winning a small majority in the November elections, meaning 9 or 10 votes could make the difference for minority leader Nancy Pelosi, majority leader Kevin McCarthy, or whoever else emerges as the front-runner for the Speaker's job. 

“We’re at a critical point in our country’s politics, and I’m proud to stand with colleagues from both parties to make Congress and its leaders work more effectively for the American people,” Curbelo said. “I truly believe the greatest challenges of our time require bipartisan solutions. We need House rules that encourage cooperation across the aisle and empower Members of the House to seek compromise and adequately represent all their constituents. I look forward to supporting a candidate for Speaker who believes in that vision as well.”

However, many of the lawmakers like Curbelo are facing tough reelection prospects of their own, meaning a portion of the 19 may not be in a position to force change next year. Curbelo faces Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the November election and both are raising millions of dollars to win the most Democratic-leaning seat held by a Republican running for reelection. 

Two Democrats from Central Florida also signed the position, Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Rep. Darren Soto. Murphy faces a competitive reelection challenge while Soto is favored to win reelection after defeating former Rep. Allen Grayson in last month's primary.  

August 17, 2018

A tale of two primaries: The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen enters the final stretch

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The Republican and Democratic primaries to replace Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both have front-runners.

That’s where the similarities end.

Democrats are arguing over policy issues that could accelerate the party’s leftward shift and are trying to attack former University of Miami President Donna Shalala. Discussions about abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and implementing Medicare for all are ideas that just recently came to the national party’s attention.

Republicans are arguing that the leading candidate, TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, was flirtatious with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an television interview 23 years ago, lobbing well-worn accusations of being soft on Cuba that have been a staple of Miami campaigns for decades.

“You would think that in Miami that we’re running campaigns on foreign policy,” said Republican political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who is not involved in the GOP race. “This is an example on the federal level, but even on the policy it seems like it’s about the perception that someone may have been friendly to Fidel Castro in an interview years ago.”

When Ros-Lehtinen, the GOP’s leading social moderate in Congress and a noted critic of President Donald Trump, announced her retirement nearly a year and a half ago, the seat instantly became the Democrats’ to lose. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the district that encompasses Miami Beach, most of Miami, Kendall and parts of coastal South Dade.

Republicans and Democrats have gone 0 for 23 in situations like Ros-Lehtinen’s since 1994, when an incumbent representative doesn’t run for reelection in a district carried two years earlier by a president from the opposite party.

Read more here.

August 15, 2018

Democrats eager for a blue wave admit Carlos Curbelo is beating them

Curbelo

@alextdaugherty

Carlos Curbelo’s low-lying and Democratic-leaning Miami-to-Key West district is ground zero for a blue wave in November.

But he’s built a sizable sea wall.

With two-and-a-half months until Election Day, polling from Republicans and Democrats shows Curbelo with a lead over his likely Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a district that Hillary Clinton won by more than 16 percentage points over Donald Trump, and Curbelo isn’t running television ads yet.

A poll released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, shows Curbelo with a seven-percentage-point lead over Mucarsel-Powell among 500 likely voters.

It’s unusual for political organizations to release polling that shows their favored candidate trailing, and the poll shows a larger gap between Mucarsel-Powell and Curbelo than a DCCC poll from April that showed Curbelo with a five percentage point lead.

“All I can figure is that the DCCC released this poll to send a message to their floundering candidate: ‘You’re losing. Get your campaign in order and do something about it,’” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Maddie Anderson said.

At least one Republican poll that hasn’t been released publicly shows Curbelo with a larger lead over Mucarsel-Powell than the DCCC poll.

The DCCC touted their poll, which was conducted a month ago, by arguing that the race became tied after voters heard basic biographical information about Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell. Around the same time the poll was conducted, Mucarsel-Powell switched campaign managers and her husband was found to have financial ties to an Eastern European oligarch dogged by allegations of contract killings and embezzlement.

“In the initial vote, despite major name ID disparity, Mucarsel-Powell earns 41 percent to Congressman Curbelo’s 48 percent. This lead quickly erodes after equal biographic information from both sides,” a DCCC polling memo said. “This exodus from Curbelo is spurred by the introduction of Mucarsel-Powell, who at the time of the poll was largely unknown and had not yet communicated with voters in the 26th district.”

Mucarsel-Powell entered the race a year ago, and her campaign started running television ads to introduce herself last week, after the poll was conducted. But Curbelo hasn’t started running TV ads, and he finished the latest fundraising quarter with more money to spend than Mucarsel-Powell in an environment where 56 Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbents across the country, many in districts that are far less friendly to Democrats on paper.

Read more here.

August 06, 2018

New Matt Haggman poll shows Donna Shalala losing ground

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

Donna Shalala could have a serious fight on her hands.

New polling from Matt Haggman's campaign shows that Shalala's lead in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is shrinking with three weeks until the Aug. 28 election. 

The poll, conducted from Aug. 2 to 5 by RABA Research on behalf of the Haggman campaign, shows Shalala with a 10 percentage point lead over Haggman among likely primary voters and state Rep. David Richardson virtually tied with Haggman. A fourth candidate, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, also captures double digit support in Haggman's poll while 27 percent of voters are not sure who they will vote for. 

The 10 percentage point lead for Shalala over Haggman is less than half of a 27 percentage point lead Shalala had when her campaign conducted a poll in June. 

The RABA poll, conducted in English and Spanish via automated and live phone surveys, gives Shalala 26 percent support while Haggman has 16, Richardson 15 and Rosen Gonzalez 11. Michael Hepburn received four percent. The poll's margin of error is 4.7 percent. 

"To see where we’re at with just over three weeks left until the primary compared to where we were a few months ago, this is a testament to the strong campaign that has been built," Haggman campaign manager Michael Edwards said in a statement. "As a first time candidate, Matt did not come in with the name recognition Donna Shalala did. When you look at the poll, 59% of likely voters could change their mind and over a quarter of the electorate is still undecided. We will continue to knock on every door and meet voters across the district, drive Matt’s progressive message forward, and take this race all the way to victory in November." 

Haggman and Richardson are trying to present themselves as liberal alternatives to Shalala, the former president of the University of Miami and the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Haggman, the former director of the Knight Foundation, and Richardson both support a "Medicare for all" healthcare system and want to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two positions that Shalala does not support. Haggman was one of the first candidates running for congress nationwide to call for abolishing ICE and released television ads on the issue. 

Richardson and Haggman also have enough financial muscle to continue television advertisements through the primary, though Shalala has shown she can out raise the field and would have the resources to mount a substantial attack against either if she chooses to do so. 

Though Haggman's polling shows a tightening race, Shalala remains the favorite to win the nomination for a seat that Democrats expect to flip in November, as Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based seat had the largest margin of victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump among all congressional districts held by Republicans in 2016. 

"The question is, where's Donna?" Richardson consultant Eric Johnson said.  

 

July 30, 2018

This Republican could hold onto his blue-district seat even if Dems sweep

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via @katieglueck    

Carlos Curbelo was fuming.

It was a sticky Friday afternoon in early July, and the Republican congressman had spent the last hour traipsing through a University of Florida research center, languidly asking academics about their work on environmental challenges confronting this more rural area south of Miami.

But as Curbelo emerged, blinking in the sunlight, I told him that his latest fight with the Trump administration had just metastasized.

The Department of Health and Human Services had already blocked Curbelo’s planned visit that day to a nearby shelter for children separated from their parents while crossing the border illegally, enraging Curbelo, who said that morning that his team had worked for weeks to follow protocol in arranging the visit. Now, HHS—embroiled in the enormously controversial if short-lived Trump administration policy of family separation—was complaining about the “significant and unnecessary strain” placed by visiting members of Congress.

“I don’t feel sorry for them at all,” Curbelo shot back. “We fund all of their operations and all of their salaries, so they should make the time and effort to allow us to see the work they’re doing, especially if they’re confident in the work they’re doing.”

Curbelo, seeking a third term, represents the most Democratic-leaning district held by a Republican running for reelection this cycle. That willingness to sharply criticize the Trump administration—evidence, allies say, of his independent profile—helps explain why he has thrived here so far.

But as Democrats plot a path back to the majority in the House of Representatives, their journey begins in districts like Curbelo’s: diverse, overwhelmingly Democratic, where Hillary Clinton won by double digits even as more centrist Republican House members managed to hang on in 2016.

Republicans in these districts, from Curbelo, whose sprawling district runs from Miami to Key West, to Barbara Comstock in Virginia, are battle-tested and considered some of the GOP’s strongest candidates. But based on the pure political realities of their districts at a time when the president is unpopular and progressives are energized, a Democratic loss in districts such as Florida 26 would call into question whether the political environment this election year is really so bad for Republicans after all.

“Curbelo is a very crafty politician, so it’s difficult, but…yes, we should be winning this seat on a consistent basis,” said Mike Abrams, a former state legislator and former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party.

Now, this race is shaping up as a national test of whether environment alone is enough to boost a bevy of lesser-known Democratic candidates—or if a strong personal brand still matters on a district-by-district level.

Pointing to Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Curbelo’s likely Democratic opponent, Abrams said: “If Debbie wins, I think you’re going to say it was a bellwether test of the state of Trump. At least in Miami-Dade County, the political climate was important. If she doesn’t win, I think then you would say, hey, there are Republican candidates that can overcome Trump’s innate unpopularity.”

Read more here.

July 20, 2018

At Democratic debate for Ros-Lehtinen seat, it was ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘It’s Complicated’

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via _@jacobsweet

At some debates, it’s hard to tell one candidate from another. This was one of them.

“We all have similar platforms, but we approach problems differently,” said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, one of the five Democratic candidates who debated each other Thursday night in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a seat now held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican who is retiring.

While some expected frequent attacks to be levied against frontrunner Donna Shalala, the former University of Miami president, attacks among the candidates were infrequent throughout the night.

The most substantial challenges throughout the evening came from state Rep. David Richardson, who represents Miami Beach and Little Havana. His critiques were leveled at Shalala.

At one point during a series of questions about immigration, he said Shalala had contributed to the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy, a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, while she was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Michael Putney, the moderator for the debate, said Shalala had not contributed to the policy.

Hours later, Richardson challenged Shalala to submit her financial disclosure statements — forms the public can use to evaluate potential conflicts of interest. Richardson noted that she has delayed sending the two documents two times. He emphasized that she may take an extra extension of 30 days to turn in the forms, the latest time that she would be allowed to turn them in.

Shalala fought back, saying Richardson had also taken two extensions in sending in the documents, which he acknowledged to be true.

Of the five candidates, only three had significant visible representation at the debate: Shalala, Richardson and Matt Haggman, a former reporter for the Miami Herald and most recently, the Knight Foundation program director for Miami. Of the five candidates, only those three left campaign materials on the church pews. Rosen Gonzalez. a Miami Beach commissioner, and Michael A. Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser, had fewer visible pockets of support.

Read more here.

July 16, 2018

Florida lawmakers blast Trump for not calling out Putin

Donald trump 2

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers on Monday blasted President Trump over taking Vladimir Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, a conclusion that stands in dramatic contrast to widely held views among the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would do that, Trump said in Helsinki.

"What the president said today is not accurate," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during an Atlantic Council event.

Florida Democrats were the first to react and in sharper terms.

"The president's refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all," Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted. "Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that's a fact. The president's unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing."

"Today @RealDonaldTrump became an illegitimate president when he showed the world that his loyalty lies more with than the people of the United States," Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted. 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not directly criticize Trump but did say "Foreign policy must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking."

Rubio was more specific during an Atlantic Council event.

"What the president said today is not accurate," the Florida Republican said, adding that "all I can speculate" is that Trump was trying to be nice to Putin to establish a better working relationship.

"The flaw is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship," Rubio said.

Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen directly criticized Trump. 

"The President's comments in Helsinki were deeply alarming," Curbelo said in a statement. "Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is fact – and the recent indictment from Director Mueller and the evidence it outlines proves that. It is unacceptable that an American President not only stood there and said nothing while Vladmir Putin spewed fiction at that press conference, but also questioned the hard work and findings of American intelligence and law enforcement investigators. The U.S. relationship with Russia has deteriorated to its current state because of Russia's criminal interference in our elections, lack of respect for human rights, and invasive and militant actions against its neighbors and our allies around the world. Blaming it on anything else, is unacceptable."

"No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by is not 'a disaster for our country,'" Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart avoided directly criticizing Trump in his statement. 

"As our own intelligence experts and the House Intelligence Committee have asserted, Russia interfered in the United States' 2016 election just as it meddles in the elections of its neighbors," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Throughout the world, Russia is often on the opposite side of U.S. interests in crucial areas such as Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Under Putin's charge, Russia has become increasingly undemocratic, expelling pro-democracy NGOs from its territory, suppressing independent media, ignoring human rights, and manifesting a perilous environment for journalists. We must remember that Russia is not an ally of the United States, and that those responsible for attacks on our democratic institutions must be held accountable."